Someone recently told me that all the women in my family had very strong personalities. That person meant the women on my maternal side. However, in this post I will talk about my paternal grandmother, my Thamma. She was Thamma to all my friends and also the other youngsters in my neighborhood.
Thamma was a powerful character. For the era she belonged to, she was way ahead of her times. She was a proud working woman, progressive, spoke couple of languages, a go-getter and someone who did as she pleased with a devil-may-care attitude. She was also exceptionally beautiful, with a natural flair for fashion. When she wore her sunglasses with her saree, she could give the current crop of stars a run for their money. She was not your typical sweet old grandma who molly-cuddled her kids/grandkids and fed them handmade snacks regularly. On the contrary, she never enjoyed house chores or cooking too much. Her interests lay in travel, socializing, enjoying good times with friends and family, pets and theater. In fact she was almost a part of a movie, but had to drop those plans, when she realized she was pregnant with my father and uncle. She had her flaws, but like I mentioned earlier, she didn’t care, she lived her life on her own terms. Like the time she adopted a pup from the streets, wrapped it in her coat while sitting on a bus and got her home and announced the newest member of the family. No questions, no discussion. Obviously, my grandfather was not too happy about this addition to the family, especially since he was not even consulted once. But that was how it was and he learnt to accept Tipsy. As graceful as she was, she was also a little patakha when she flared up. We were all a little scared of her temper. My dad and uncle till today swear by the punishments and often the whacks that came their way every time they acted up. There was a rule in their house, and that was, if a complaint came home regarding any of the boys to their mother, they would suffer the consequences. Having said that the rule to the outside world was – if you have a problem with my boys, you bring it to me and I will address it, if you lay a finger on my boys, you will suffer the consequences! Often because of her outbursts, my uncle and father would tease her and say it’s the Jat gene in her that reveals itself (She was half Bengali and half Haryanvi). That joke continues till today, whenever my daughter takes a passionate stand and doesn’t back down, resulting in her dad exclaiming its the famous gene expressing itself.
Coming back to Thamma; although the movie plans didn’t materialize, she did pursue theater in her spare time and the entire family supported her. She would participate in small plays and community events and my grandfather always encouraged her and cheered her on. Then one day the twins, who were still small kids, decided to grace with their presence and accompanied their father to watch their mother perform on stage. This is an anecdote that every member of my family is familiar with, because it had been recounted that many times by my grandmother. And it goes like this… in the scene, another actor had to yell at the main protagonist (Thamma) and after shedding some tears, she had to break into a monologue. Alas, the scene and her moment didn’t go as planned. You see, as soon as the first actor said his piece, my valiant father, who was probably five or six at that time, jumped out of his seat and started shouting back at the actor who dared to yell at his mother in front of her family. To his young mind, this slight was unbearable and the dutiful son needed to stand up for his mother. This egged his brother on, who decided two loud voices were better than one, to drive the point home. My poor grandfather scrambled and tried his best to get the situation under control. All this while Thamma had to show much restraint from reacting to the ruckus being created in the front row. She always ended the story by saying that night was a very embarrassing night and how her kids were not allowed to come and watch her plays for a very long time. Sometimes she would also emphasize rather dramatically to us that maybe she could have been a very famous actress and then glare at my father before all of us would burst out laughing. I know that although every time she narrated this story and accused my father for being so unruly, she was secretly thrilled at the idea that her little boy didn’t think twice before standing up to someone bigger or worry about the consequences, just for his mother. And that feeling of pride and joy trumped any small embarrassments of that day.
I realized that feeling too. My little one is a very rambunctious kid herself. Few weeks back, I participated in a cultural dance. I am not a trained dancer myself, although I do enjoy dancing. I got on the stage after a long time and a bunch of us amateurs performed. Unfortunately for us, there was a mix-up with the music and the wrong tape got played and a small chaos ensued. While most of us made few mistakes, mine appeared to be the most glaring and visible. I just stood frozen for what seemed like an eternity. I was mortified. At the same time, my boisterous little one was getting louder and more difficult to manage for my husband. She didn’t want to stay with the audience and wanted to dance on stage with her Mamma. Although the audience was polite, and my husband cheered and applauded, it was still such an embarrassing evening, far from what I had imagined. Until bedtime, when my little one came and gave me a tight hug and told me excitedly that I looked so beautiful, my dress looked amazing and she loved the way I danced on stage and it was such a great evening. She insisted that next time I take her along too. I was delighted and felt so proud as if I had climbed the Everest. Only children can make you feel like this. As I mentioned earlier, that feeling of pride and joy trumps all small embarrassments of the day.